Christopher Luxon

BLAKE Leader 2019

Business leader and sustainability champion.

Departing Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon has established the airline as a leader in social, environmental and economic sustainability.

The Christchurch-born business leader has announced he will leave Air New Zealand on September 25, destination unknown. But throughout his seven-years at the helm, he has encouraged the airline’s 12,500 staff to see sustainability as “the way we do things around here.”

“Every time you chase down sustainability and try and put it into the bloodstream of your business, you are actually building a better quality business,” he says.

In 2015, Christopher established an innovative Sustainability Advisory Panel to help Air New Zealand towards its sustainability goals. It brought together six global experts in the fields of conservation, anthropology, climate change policy, sustainable tourism and sustainable development, led by sustainability thought leader Sir Jonathon Porritt.

The panel acts as a ‘critical friend’ to the airline, challenging the status quo and lifting ambition to solve big challenges such as carbon emissions, regional development and sustainable procurement.

In the past year, Christopher has also created an Executive Steering Group to oversee the airline’s sustainability agenda. The company publishes an annual sustainability report to transparently summarise the airline’s progress against its sustainability goals, and many senior roles in the business now feature sustainability-related performance objectives. Key partnerships, such as one with Antarctica New Zealand, have been established to support climate research.

This leadership from the top has seen a number of improvements and innovations that collectively led to Air New Zealand being awarded Eco-Airline of the Year by Air Transport World magazine.

Air New Zealand has relaunched customer carbon offsetting and encouraged business leaders to transition their company fleets to EVs.

An inflight waste reduction initiative Project Green has, since 2017, diverted waste equivalent in weight to three 777-300 aircraft from landfill. Plastic waste reduction has lifted to nearly 55 million items a year.

Even plugging stationary aircraft into ground power in Auckland and Christchurch, rather than burning fuel, has saved more than 12,000 tonnes of carbon and 3.8 million kilograms of fuel in the past two years.

Christopher says: “Sustainability for me is really about mission and purpose, and it hits me in a couple of ways. One is really about the role of the organisation and making a contribution to something bigger than itself. And so I feel very passionate that we sit here in New Zealand and we’re very fortunate to live here.

“And as a result, companies here should be part of actually strengthening the place, working alongside Government, working alongside community leaders to do that. So for me, sustainability is about: “how do we actually improve the place that we’re living in?” And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.

“This idea of actually signing up to a bigger mission and purpose than just the profit and loss of a company has been really important. It’s been really important to our people, because it’s actually given them a bigger mission, a bigger purpose to actually emotionally attach to and it’s been really exciting seeing the agenda build over the past five years.”

Christopher is an influential member of the Climate Leaders Coalition Chief Executive Leadership Group and his annual Sustainability Breakfasts have brought together several hundred business leaders to engage around sustainability ambitions for New Zealand.

His leadership has been influential across the wider business community and with government. This was recognised when he was approached by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to help establish, and then chair, her Business Advisory Council to build stronger relationships between business and government.

Christopher insists corporations need to adopt a definition of sustainability which extends beyond environmental considerations. He works just as hard on social and economic sustainability.

Air New Zealand is an enthusiastic supporter of the revival of Te Reo Māori. The airline collaborated with the Māori Language Commission to create the Waha Tohu; a pin initially developed as a means of identifying Te Reo speaking Air New Zealand employees, the Tohu Reo is now available to be worn by all fluent Te Reo speakers in New Zealand.

The airline has a Maori and Pacific Islands employee network and has recently signed on to support Te Matatini national kapa haka festival. Air New Zealand also boasts its own internal competition called Hakamania, where different teams across the business learn haka to perform for their workmates (the 2019 competition was won by the cargo roopu).

Christopher is recognised for empowering and enabling women in leadership roles. Under his leadership, the percentage of women on the airline’s 80-strong Senior Leadership Team has risen from 16 percent to 44 percent. The goal is 50 percent by 2020.

Throughout his tenure, Christopher has also presided over a significant drop in the gender pay gap at Air New Zealand. Male employees are now paid 0.41 percent more than females, compared to a New Zealand average of 9.2 percent.

Christopher’s personal drive to end modern slavery and human trafficking led to the establishment of a Supplier Code of Conduct. Prawns were eventually removed from cabin menus because the airline could not vouch for provenance and worker conditions.

Departing Air New Zealand chair Tony Carter says Christopher has put sustainable development at the heart of the organisation. He has worked closely with stakeholders on the East Coast and in Northland to support these regions to become more economically independent.

Christopher formalised the airline’s relationship with Ngāti Porou so the partners could work together to build economic and social growth in Tairāwhiti. Carter says this partnership could pave the way for the airline to support regional development and sustainable tourism elsewhere.

Carter says during Christopher’s tenure, the airline has consistently been identified as having the number one corporate reputation in NZ and Australia, shareholder returns have risen around 275 percent, customer satisfaction at seven times the industry rate has resulted in a slew of awards, and employee engagement is in the top quartile of global companies.

“It is clear Christopher’s influence extends well beyond Air New Zealand’s sphere.”